The committee tasked with reclaiming public funds stolen by Hosni Mubarak’s officials agreed to a reconciliation proposal by the fugitive multimillionaire Rachid Mohamed Rachid — Mubarak’s former minister of trade and industry — in exchange for dropping legal charges against him and his family.
The state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported the deal on Monday without providing details or specifying the amount that Rachid has agreed to pay the state. A host of privately-owned media outlets reported, however, that this settlement amounted to half a billion Egyptian pounds.
MENA reported that the Committee to Reclaim Public Funds and Assets, presided over by Egypt’s Prosecutor General Nabil Sadeq, had agreed to a settlement “after inspecting official reports, which confirmed that all the finances and investments of the Rachid family had existed prior to his assuming the post of Minister of Trade and Industry in 2004.”
Serving as the minister of trade and investment from 2004 to 2011, Rachid fled the country with his family in February 2011 during the course of the 18 day-uprising against the Mubarak regime.
That year Rachid was handed prison sentences in absentia though his companies continued to operate as usual.
Rachid was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison after being found guilty of embezzling public funds in June 2011. Just a few weeks later, in August 2011, Rachid was sentenced to another 15 years imprisonment for corruption involving the abuse of “his influence and the power of his position to generate illicit gains, amounting to some LE522 million.” His daughter, Alia, was also issued a 15-year prison sentence in the same case, while Rachid and his daughter were jointly fined the sum of LE522 million.
It is difficult to explain on what basis Rachid was subsequently found innocent by the committee, political economist Amr Adly told Mada Masr, because the process is not open to public scrutiny or outside involvement.
Adly is skeptical: “So all of a sudden this committee claims it has discovered documents which prove that Rachid is not guilty of any financial irregularities? Why didn’t Rachid’s defense lawyers discover these documents or try to use them to prove their client’s innocence?”
Without access to the documents and evidence, he said, we may never fully understand the political dimension to these proceedings. The political dimension is significant in the cases involving the heavyweight businessmen who were part of Mubarak’s inner circle as these cases “are not like ordinary cases of theft, or corruption. Their fate is intertwined with that of the former ruling regime.”
In August this year, the state’s Illicit Gains Authority accepted a reconciliation deal with billionaire petroleum tycoon Hussein Salem, who currently resides in Spain, worth LE 5.8 billion in exchange for the dropping of charges and lengthy prison sentences which had been issued against him in absentia. The deal was said to be based on a recuperation of 75 percent of his wealth, but a Mada Masr investigation revealed that Salem’s wealth and assets were underestimated by the deal.
Rachid, unlike Salem, had been active as a businessman many years before his entry into politics. He held top executive posts at the multinational corporation Unilever and the HSBC bank in Egypt.
“Rachid is perhaps being punished for his political stances, or his alliance with Gamal Mubarak. Yet his actual financial violations are not likely to be as flagrant as those of other officials from within Mubarak’s inner circle,” Adly told Mada Masr. “Perhaps he was standing trial more for his political mistakes than financial violations.”
Adly put the reconciliation agreement in the context of what he supposes is an attempt to bring back to Egypt the team of businessmen who thrived under the government of Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2004-2011), due to their economic weight, clout, expertise, and connections.
Adly predicts that such a rehabilitation of heavyweight Mubarak-era businessmen such as Rachid, Salem and controversial steel magnate Ahmed Ezz, will entail a return to the economic fold but not a comeback to Egypt’s political sphere.
Researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Osama Diab agreed with Adly that rulings into the corruption cases were connected to the dominant political rhetoric and the affiliations of the state over the past five years. The courts issued contradictory rulings in the same cases under the same law, Diab asserted.
“All the Mubarak-era officials were convicted, and later appeals were accepted in all rulings and all of them were acquitted. In Rashid’s case, there were two rulings in absentia, but the committee said there was no evidence implicating him,” he explained.
However, Diab does not see the charges against Rashid as being completely due to his political stances, as they carry serious accusations of misuse of power and conflict of interest, which was identical to the case of former tourism minister Ahmed Al-Maghraby and the rest of ministers in Nazif’s Cabinet.
“We did not have a law to prevent conflict of interest, but the absence of the law should not justify the obvious violations and gains acquired through the misuse of power and conflict of interest in these cases.”